tv White House Medal CSPAN June 3, 2012 12:15am-12:50am EDT
you who were alive and understand the problem. [applause] leadership in the military or outside is the same. never leave from the back -- never believed it from the back. don't ever do things that you know -- that you don't know are the right thing to do. that goes from civilian life outside. >> like pat, i stayed in the years and continued on with leadership, taking care of the marines, commanding different commands from a company up to an infantry regiment of 5000 marines. but nothing changed as far as my views toward society. i was very proud of what the
marines did, as well as all of us that fought in vietnam. some people cry that we lost the war. i never lost the battle. i should not say i, we never lost the battle. the war was in our hands to win, but things happen with that we decided as a society, put so much pressure on the campaign. but it did not change my views as to live and the love of my country. i enjoyed teaching students. >> i stayed in the military after i came back, and i don't regret -- there may be a lesson in this, i don't know. i did not want to go in the
military. when i came out of high school, i had an opportunity to play football at several universities, but there was this foxy young chick, and she was going to university that did not have a football team, but they did have rotc, and it was mandatory. i hated it, every day. so i kind of put up with the military, and then one thing led to another and i ended up in vietnam's for a couple of years. my thing was, i was in berlin when they built a wall. i looked around at the leadership and the people i saw who were serving their country in uniform, something i did not want to do, and i box -- i was there with norman schwarzkopf. i looked at these guys, and we get off the train in berlin, germany.
a guy meet me, takes me to an important -- takes me to an apartment, there stood in the refrigerator and everything. the commander's wife the next day comes to see my wife, who was pregnant with our third child. wow, these people or something else. then they built the wall, we went through that kind of stress, shooting their own people off the wall. i just looked at the people around be in uniform and said there are some really wonderful leaders here. i would like to grow up and be like them. so i stayed after the time in the military and learned a great many lessons as far as courage, sacrifice, what a real hero is, those things that hopefully we'll talk about later on. so did i. it reduced audit not come back into society after the military, i stayed in. i got to serve with some of the greatest people i have ever been around anywhere.
knowing what i know now, i probably would have left home when i found out my parents were civilians. [laughter] but i love to be around military people. all young people ought to take a good, hard look at it. it will change your life. you will see leadership like you'll never see anywhere else. you are all part of the greatest generation. just take a look at it. it is a wonderful way to spend your life, even if you are only in for a couple of years. what the heck? you are still serving your country and you'll come out with great skill, discipline, and stuff like that. i did not have a problem coming back into society after combat, not one bit. say.ve got something to i am the lowest rank up here.
i am not staff sgt. i was a second lieutenant when i got my medal of honor. [applause] it was a battlefield commission, and on behalf of all the battlefield commission officers, i am a second lieutenant and the lowest ranking officer of here. that was for leadership. our love of the staff sergeant right because it was better than second lieutenant -- i loved the sat -- staff sgt rank it really is a higher rank and what i am. it is a very good thing to be a
staff sergeant, so i am kind of happy about that. i want you to know that these battlefield commissions did not come easy. you had to be a terrific leader in the battlefield to get a commission in the first infantry division. i found that out for sure. on december 9, was commissioned an officer. on december 16, on the day the battle of the bulge started, i became a second lieutenant in paris, france. so i did have some leadership training. [laughter] >> we are honored to be with you all. now that you have promoted yourself, you have to buy the first round of drinks tonight. [laughter] >> on the second lieutenants pay, that is going to be tough.
>> my question is, were you traumatized by all of the wounded soldiers your rescue? >> i had a real problem with blood and needles, especially the needles. whenever vaccinating me, i just hated that. the first time they took blood, i fainted. so i was very apprehensive about going into a combat situation where people were in the course of the day, into tours in vietnam i picked up over 5000 people. we saw the human body in every possible, horrible configuration that it could be in. i was really worried about how i would physically react to that. even today, if i look on
television at an operation or a needle, i turn it all. in combat, in the environment, it did not bother me. what bothered me is that people were hurt. that bothered me very much, but it did not physically bother me. i was so busy with what i was trying to do. there is nothing in the world greater than to save a human life. the teachers and the coaches do this also. they save their young lives. but to find your way through a bunch of obstacles -- with meat being the greatest helicopter pilot that ever lived, i could find a way in there that no one else could find. to get your hands on the person who is seriously hurt and put them in the hands of the positions that can really say there live.
that was a thrill beyond anything in life that i can think of. steak, lobster, sex -- can i say that? i don't care what it is. there is nothing in life to match saving human life. i guess that helped me overcome my incredible physical aversion to needles and blood. [applause] >> hyper who or what inspired you to join in -- who or what inspired you to join, knowing you might not come back? who or what inspired you to join the military?
knowing that you might not come back from vietnam. >> i got inspired by a letter that said greetings, you have been selected. [laughter] i suggest that if they ever start the draft again, they start the letters "saying readings, you have just been shafted by uncle sam." if i had a choice, i could have gotten out of going because i was in the national guard picks all i do is tell the draft board that. but i knew i had to start at some time. i weighed 143 pounds and was 5 ft. 6. i felt like a couple of years in
the army playing ball would be good for me, so i went in the army. the draft is the worst thing that ever happened to the military, in my judgment. it should not ever happen again. the draft did not give us bad people. it gave us some great people. a lot of them have college educations or partial educations. of what it did, gave a local judge in the share of the opportunity to tell our young hoods that they either go in the army or go to jail. all they did was change where they went to jail. today they are all volunteers and they are doing a wonderful job. we ought to keep the military strong enough to encourage people to stay in that join, and to make their families live good enough so that they will. if i had it to do all over
again, i would have done the same thing, because i found a career in the military very satisfying. i also found a career after i got out pretty satisfying, coming to arizona. [applause] >> i was wondering what was going through your mind when you committed your act of bravery. >> my troops, my marines, their safety, and concentrating on bringing artillery, aircraft, helicopters, gunships in through the zone to annihilate the enemy. they always came first. still do.
but i believe that is the way it should be. i think my brothers gave me some good advice about asking to do anything you would not do. i ended up taking machine gun misses and setting a couple of folks when my platoon got pinned down acrobatic. my troops were first in my life. >> that is the way it should be. [applause] >> i want to know how the war changed too emotionally. -- change you emotionally. >> bruce always says he was 140 pounds and tall. i was about your size when i joined the marine corps. emotionally, i think it was the
strong belief in god that really gave me the foundation to be strong and to accept life as it came, and probably the good advice my brothers gave me. they told me some ugly things before i went into combat, into the corps, i should say. it is not matter what we saw in vietnam. what amazes me is what the gentleman to our right, lieutenant walter ehlers. what they went through in world war ii is just unbelievable. you cannot describe it. yes, we did see a lot. we did fight against some good warriors against us, but it did not really bother me emotionally. there were times when i came
home it is i think this is true of all of us. take some time to kind of wind down. today a lot of our young troops are having difficulty with ptsd. the numerous deployment they are going on is just breathtaking. i think it is because we did the other thing and is because bruce and i, we did okay in baseball. he was an all-american and i was an honorable mention all- american in our day. i think playing sports and physical activity and studying and accepting failure is something that is hard to accept, but that was one of the bullets of wanted to give you. there were times when i slipped, like all of us. it did not change my life. i wanted to get better.
that is how you should be. he should be one of the best citizens of the state of california. how is that? [applause] >> my question is for any of you gentlemen. when you were saving men, if you think of them, or did you think of their families? >> i thought solely for my marines. as an example, there was one of my marines whose arm was just blown off, sitting by a tree. they were fighting as hand-to- hand. i promised i would go back and get him. how do i feel about that? i went back and found him. when i had him on my shoulder and i was running back to give psmen ", he "rny
skipper, i want my damn arm." so i went back and got his arm, and then we put him on the chopper. >> i never thought about it at the time, but when we saved a soldier's life, we were also saving a husband or a son, and also the grandchildren and great-grandchildren that would come from that one soldier's life that we saved. you don't think about that at the time, but that was something that i thought about later on. like any kind of life saving, it is just a wonderful thing to be able to do, but at the time that it is going on, you are so busy
that the only emotion is really focused, concentration, to try to get the guy out and get him to the hospital. later as i have reflected on the number of children and grandchildren and marriages and stuff like that that were involved in the lives that we saved over there. so that is a gratifying thing for me. >> thousands of missions that he flew in, he picked up not just one or two wounded warriors. i would say he saved 1000. >> one of the things that the vietnam war produced was medical evacuation from all of our cities and remote hospitals and stuff. that is one of the really positive things that came out of that work. we say blocks of life in the civilian community afterwards.
when you are doing the job, you don't think about it. you never get to meet the people you are carrying out and they don't get to meet you. if i could find out all the guys i carry on, i would charge them $5 apiece and then retired again. [laughter] but you treat the guys on the ground, they were my family. it actually develop a sense of ownership with them. you keep that for years afterwards. we will get together in another month or so, the group that was in that battle. it is great to do. we had each other on the back and then we talk about how old it looks.
we developed a relationship that is important on the battlefield, but it does come back to when you get back home and get to meet the families and realize there are that many grandchildren and running around. >> that is what i said earlier. now is the time to start taking care of each other. it is not that hard. i am not saying you have to love everybody completely, but now is the time to establish hot that camera robbery among yourselves and your classmates, and -- time to establish that camaraderie. >> sometimes you'll meet people in strange places that you actually rescued. in combat, we knew each other only by call signs.
one day i am doing a demonstration at a teleconference that shows the community around fort benning held that helicopters looking combat. this beautiful young thing -- beautiful young lady walked up to me and said, can i hug you? i said, you can hug me all day. so she did. shortly thereafter, her husband came behind her and he was limping. to make a long story short, it turned out that i was the pilot, and he recognized my call sign. i had picked him up in vietnam when he was wounded. another time i am going to the handball courts and somebody said, are you double nickel? i said yes. he said he did me a favor one time, what do you drink?
i said scott. the next day he has a half gallon of johnnie walker black scotch. we do tend to be people that you have rescued in combat, which is very rewarding. >> thank you for the question. [applause] >> we will take one more live question. i want to mention that we have an online audience that wanting of the web cast. >> walter ehlers, if you could go back to war, would you change anything? >> if i went back to the war, i
would be sure that all the soldiers had as much training as they could possibly get before they were put into a war. that is the most important thing. i did not get mike cuellar for being rambo or anything like that. i was only doing my job. i had two years of training before ever went to war, -- i did not get my medal of honor for being rambo. when i got my medal of honor, i was only doing my job. i went out and rescued a man who had gotten wounded after we let the rest of the squad returned to cover, safely back behind hedgerows there. it is something that you do
naturally. you don't think about it, and i didn't know anything about getting a medal of honor until december of 1944. i got it for the ninth and 10th of june as a staff sergeant, and everybody says what were you doing, and somebody said why don't you go back, what were you thinking? i said i was not thinking, i was just doing my job. had i been thinking, probably would not have gone back for it. things like that happen. i have to tell you that -- i am not telling you to be a christian or anything like this, but i am telling you what it does for you. for instance, i had a man and i ask him to go to church with me one morning. he said i am an atheist.
i said you can be anything you want to be. so he did. he went to church. when he came out, he said i am an atheist. again, i told him, you can be anything you want to be. the first battle we got into in africa, the tanks were coming down and they were shelling us. they told us to begin on the hill up there. keith is out there digging in on the hill. he said god, help me, god, help me. [laughter] after it was all over, i said, are you still an atheist? he said yes. i said, how come you are asking god to help you up there? >> he said, there wasn't anybody else to asked to help me. you hear these things, and i actually see them have been in combat.
people really talking to their fate automatically, even though they thought they have given it up. it is a hard thing to give up. and actually, what are we fighting for? we are fighting for our freedom. freedom of anybody's religion. if they want to be freed with it, they ought to believe. [applause] >> i would like to make one comment to him. that is not a decision you can change to mark critz once you make it, you go on for life. cannot change your decisions next week or the week after. >> i would just add a little vignette, when walter is talking
about would you do it over again. there is another medal of honor recipient named webster anderson, a great powerful soldier. he was in vietnam one night in the were overrun by the communist. the first wave took off both of his legs. he still fought on. the next attack, they threw a hand grenade into his position. webster, a hand grenade and when he was throwing it away, took off his arm. they were in the middle of a tropical storm, and i managed to get in and get webster and his wounded guys and get them to the hospital, where the save his life, but he lost both legs and he lost an arm. webster and i became very close. he thought i had saved his life. we would go and talk to students like this around the country. it would not sit. we had to prop him up. he had to fake legs and a fake
arm and he had a cane on. we brought him up and kids would ask questions. they called him mr. serjeant webster anderson. if you had to do over again, knowing what you know now, two legs and one arm, would you do it again? webster looked at him and said kidd, i only got one arm left, but my country can have it any time they want. to me, that was the definition of a true patriot. webster anderson, a great black soldier. [applause] >> leroy keith tree is in fort washington right now. ask him that question -- leroy petrie. ask him if he would do it again,
and he said i would do it again next time left-handed. good attitude. >> the question that comes from online, students have been submitting these are the last couple of weeks. what helps you to be strong, think clearly, and not to give up? in the situations you were in in battle, is there anything in your past or your training -- what was the that really helps you in that moment of intensity and danger that really helps you rise to the occasion? >> did you hear the question? >> i think it was training. in my case, i could never go home and embarrass my brothers. that was the big thing. i am going to go back to the love of troops. i really do. when you lead them into combat, and pat covered this, you better
know what the hell you are doing. you better be carrying any better be smart. the art of anticipation is a lost art, and american society today. learn how to anticipate. that was another key my brothers gave me. >> what inspired me to do what i did is that i had a lot of training in the military service. i was the leader with a lot and had not had any combat training before, went into normandy, and when we got into this situation in the hedgerows, we knocked out three machine-gun nests and then we knocked out a mortar position. the next day, i was the leader of my squad, and i knew it
number-one thing was, i could smell the germans. had a platoon leader who had just come over from fort benning georgia. he was a lieutenant. he tell me to go out and go into this town. my platoon leader tell me to take the squad out, and i started to lead the squad. he said sgt, we don't do it that way. he said, you send out two of your scouts, and i am going to follow them, and then you bring the squad behind them. i said, that is not the right way to do it.
my squad was not that well trained. i said well, that is why i do it. he said, this is a direct order. so they go out in germany. they got pinned down by at tank sitting in a little town out there across an alley. they saw these guys coming across the field so they started firing on them. they got into a hole in could not get out. so i got a bazooka and ended at the tank. hit the tank and some soft spot. i knew where to shoot at. he had never shot the bazooka before. so that was his first shot and it hit that soft spot and the germans came out of that tank
like flies. pretty soon we went over and captured the tank. we captured the tank and then i came back and said lieutenant, it is ok to come out now. and he did, and he apologized to me. he said i will never tell you how to run your squad again. [applause] >> the one thing that i learned in the military, and you learn this in life, too. we are not all born equal. we are just not. you look around you and you see people bigger, faster, smarter, stronger, they have better here than you have. -- better hair.
we are simply not all born equal. but there is one way, and i think this is the key to success in life and what we try to teach in our program, that we are all born equal. that is in terms of courage. each of us can have all the courage you want. you cannot use it up. it is the key to success in life. it produces great success from those among us who were not given credibility and did not have great opportunities in their life. to me, courage was a very important thing. where does it come from? what allows you to use courage on the battlefield or anywhere else? the answer is simply fade. i have never seen anything else to explain what people do in combat or in the classroom or anywhere else. i